Education has a broader purpose, says UJ’s Prof Salim Vally

​The often-misinterpreted nature of the relationship between education and society is reduced to narrow economic ends. Whether it is in the media, policymaking, academic writings or public debate, the relationship between education and skills, particularly the skills-mismatch discourse, frequently dominates the discussions, especially on unemployment in South Africa. This is according to Salim Vally, the Director of the Centre for Education Rights and Transformation and the NRF-SARChI Chair in Community, Adult and Workers’ Education at the University of Johannesburg (UJ).

This seemingly common-sense approach places the burden of responsibility squarely on individuals and their ‘deficits’ while obscuring the real systemic obstacles to procuring decent and remunerative employment,” said Professor Vally, when he delivered his professorial inauguration address,Between the Vision of Yesterday and the Reality of Today: Forging the Pedagogy of Possibility.

Prof Vally’s inaugural address took place in the University’s Council Chambers, Madibeng Building, Auckland Park Kingsway Campus on Wednesday, 4 September 2019.

He pointed to the vision of education for liberation that existed in the broad liberation movement during the struggle against apartheid focusing specifically on ‘People’s Education’ and ‘Workers’ Education’.

Reflecting on the history of the education liberation movement, Prof Vally explained that the purpose and value of education and the country’s rich tradition of educational praxis are based on social justice and democratic citizenship. “Instead of an instrumental and narrow role for education reduced solely to the labour market requirements of business, economic growth and international competitiveness, the purpose of education is much broader”, he said.

Examining the reality of apartheid’s legacy on education, compounded by some post-apartheid policies particularly the overarching macro-economic neoliberal strategy, Prof Vally stressed that it links the latter to the paradox that while post-apartheid education policies established the formal basis for social justice and equity through legislation, in reality these laudable goals remain unattainable and elusive.

In his address, Prof Vally stated that in the face of the desultory state of schooling and the failure of neoliberalism, the ‘solutions’ advocated, including strident calls for the privatisation of education and resorting back to an apartheid-like disciplinary regime are dangerous and will exacerbate existing inequalities.

One of the questions explored is whether the elision of social class analysis and meaningful community participation in education policy deliberations has contributed to the failure in addressing and overcoming the profound inequalities and social cleavages that characterise the South African education system.

Prof Vally insists that close attention must be paid to “shouts and whispers of resistance onto a wide-angled landscape” that links political and socio-economic issues to the day-to-day contextual issues of teaching and learning and the structural character of poverty and inequality.

He concluded: Alternatives and possibilities are vital because of the failure of the system. The “assault on education and reason”, increasing inequality, devastating unemployment and the rise of obscurantist, xenophobic and misogynistic discourse, militarism, as well as the unprecedented ecological crisis, means that meaningful education that address these exigencies is decisive.

prof salim vally
Prof Salim Vally
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